Growing up only a short drive from the beautiful downtown USC campus, defensive lineman J.R. Tavai witnessed a first hand account of hard-working and speed-oriented pass rushers. Following two campaigns filled with promise and opportunity at the nose tackle position, the junior is energized to play under the new-look 5-2 scheme.
“Wherever the coach needs me to be, if one man goes down, I am willing to go in,” Tavai said about his flexibility on defense, playing inside on the three-technique and lining up right on the guard’s outside shoulder. The position has taken a bit of getting used to from his traditional spot up the middle, but the adjustment comes as a thrilling reward for years of diligent effort from Tavai on the Trojans defensive line.
Back in High school, Tavai was named All-CIF Northern Division MVP, South Bay Daily Breeze First Team and All-Bay League MVP following an impressive senior season with Mira Costa where he raked in 95 tackles and 12 sack as a dominant nose tackle. Arriving on USC’s campus as a smaller yet more mobile athlete, Tavai entered the college atmosphere bulking up for the challenge.
“I didn’t mind all that, I just stuck to the weight room,” Tavai told USCtrojans.com back in 2011, adding “I haven’t played at any other college but its a great feeling to play at USC.”
Moving one spot over outside the guard, Tavai has embraced his smaller stature combined with his quickness following his days as a fullback/nose tackle combination player in high school. “That is something the coaches like, and that is something I try to work on every day,” Tavai said, following a physical practice Thursday.
What’s the secret to his game? Well, it begins with a few basic keys derived from the motivation of his signal caller, highly intelligent and rowdy Coach Ed Orgeron. “Play hard and bring some effort every day,” Tavai mentions among the many lessons that Coach O shouts on a given day to hislineman.
Competing with the likes of guards John Martinez and Aundrey Walker on a daily basis, Tavai has returned to the field healthy and better than ever at the left end position. While his pass-rushing abilities may be catching the eyes of the coaching staff, Tavai sees himself in esteemed company with a strong skill set built from inside-out. His speed, stamina, and strength are among the major areas Tavai prides himself on while also adding, “I may not be Julius Peppers’ size, but hopefully I can emulate his techniques on a daily basis.”
Translation Trojan fans: the third season at Troy could be filled with plenty of magical moments from their hard-working, all business defensive end who earns the daily luxury of working alongside Morgan Breslin and Devon Kennard on the outside. “We got our own secret games going on and it’s an honor to play with those guys,” Tavai says, adding, “I would love to get up to their level.”
In his first two seasons, Tavai has amassed 21 tackles, including 2.5 for losses. The upperclassmen accepts the responsibility that comes with growing up, while keeping his team-oriented mindset towards every practice. “Whatever the coaches need me to do, I am willing to help this team win,” he says. Now only 12 days away from the season opener, expect the silent but deadly talent to strike against Hawaii.